Ivan Sproule today urged Hibs to push the boat out and ask the revered Tony Mowbray if he would consider returning to Easter Road.
Mowbray took charge of the Hibees a decade ago and went on to enjoy an exhilarating two and a bit years at the helm, leading a swashbuckling young team to back-to-back top-four finishes for the first time since the 1970s.
Since Mowbray left in October 2006, the Easter Road side have been unable to replicate the feelgood factor that accompanied his reign, with a steady demise through the years ultimately leading them down into the Championship last month.
With the 50-year-old Teessider still out of work following his departure from hometown team Middlesbrough eight months ago, former Hibs winger Sproule believes his old club would be mad not to look into the possibility of luring Mowbray back to Edinburgh to try and spark a revival.
“I know people say you should never go back but Tony Mowbray did such a good job at Hibs the first time,” said Sproule, currently back in his Northern Ireland homeland playing for Linfield. “He gained the respect of the fans and of the players and if you gave him the time and the right structure, I think he would be the perfect man. Whether he would want it is another matter, but whoever’s in charge of making the decision should be ringing Tony up to find out what his thoughts would be on it.
“I’m maybe speaking from the heart because I have so many happy memories from the time he was there but he did such a good job and some of the football we played was just fantastic.
“Sometimes a manager just fits a certain club. Look at Terry Butcher, for example. Inverness and him was the perfect partnership but then he came to Hibs and it ended up being a disaster. Hibs and Tony Mowbray could be the perfect fit.”
Sproule, 33, also believes his old Easter Road team-mate Guillaume Beuzelin, who is currently coaching Hibs’ under-14s, should be considered for a more prominent role at the club as part of the new management team.
“Boozy’s been involved in coaching for a while now, first with Falkirk and now with Hibs, and I’d love to see him involved with the coaching staff,” said Sproule. “He’s French and he’s got his own style and philosophy about how the game should be played. If he coaches half as well as the way he played, I’m sure the Hibs fans would be happy because they enjoyed the way that he played his football. Like myself, he was a bit of a cult hero with the Hibs fans.
“You need to have people who have a bit of pride and passion for the club. He wasn’t so much a talker, but he influenced the younger players by leading by example. He commands respect from the other players. The first thing they need to sort out is the new manager, though. Whoever they bring in, they have to choose carefully because the new manager will need to be a strong character.”
In his two spells at Easter Road, Sproule experienced the best and worst of Hibs. After the high of his first spell under Mowbray, he returned to Easter Road in 2011 to find a club which was becoming established in the bottom six under Colin Calderwood and then Pat Fenlon. The demise for his old team was completed under Butcher last month, and Sproule fears it could be some time before they get back on their feet.
“To go down to the Championship is not acceptable for Hibs,” said Sproule. “You could see the difference in the club just between my first spell and my second spell there. The first time I was there we were fighting for Europe, always in the top six and usually in the top four. Things had changed by the time I went back and I don’t think it helped that there was so much inconsistency with managers coming and going all the time. Whenever you change the structure and the players at the club so often, it’s always going to have a negative effect.
“The one thing we had under Tony Mowbray and even when John Collins first came in was that the team didn’t change too much. We generally used the same players and only made four or five changes each season. There’s just been too many different players and managers since then and that’s the reason Hibs have ended up in the Championship.
“It’s a club that means a lot to me and to a lot of other people, so I hope this is a wake-up call and they learn that they can never change so many managers in such a short space of time. The one thing they can take from this is that it’s a chance to restructure the club, but they must make sure that this never happens again.
“If they don’t get this appointment right, then they’ll not have learnt from their mistakes. A manager’s a very important part of your club so they’ve got to get the right one in. You also need the right kind of players in, with a strong mentality.
“Hibernian’s a massive club and there comes a pressure with playing for them. Every week, you’ve got to produce. They need to get players in who are going to care for their club. They’ve got to get the structure right from the start. I don’t think there’s a quick fix, though – this could take a good two or three years to sort out.”